It’s not clear yet where the National Park Service will go when the American Museum of Science and Energy building closes at the end of the year, but a federal official said the Park Service will stay in Oak Ridge.
It could relocate to a two-story building that once housed Sears Roebuck at Main Street Oak Ridge, the former Oak Ridge Mall. That’s where the U.S. Department of Energy’s public education and outreach missions, now housed at the American Museum of Science and Energy, are moving.
But the National Park Service hadn’t committed to moving there as of April 17, said Niki Nicholas, site manager of the Oak Ridge unit of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The NPS needs more information, Nicholas said in response to questions after a Monday afternoon presentation to AAUW, or American Association of University Women. (A reader had told Oak Ridge Today of an April 17 letter reportedly sent from the Manhattan Project National Historical Park to federal officials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which manages AMSE.)
Nicholas said the National Park Service has several options in Oak Ridge, including Main Street Oak Ridge. But she declined to elaborate on the precise number of options, where they might be, or what organizations or businesses might be co-located in those buildings.
“We have several spaces,” Nicholas said. “We will have a place.”
The Park Service doesn’t have a large staff in Oak Ridge and would have to be co-located with someone else, Nicholas said. The National Park Service now shares space with AMSE, which is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.
It’s not clear what specific information the National Park Service needs before deciding whether to move to Main Street Oak Ridge. But there are some things that aren’t clear about that new space, including its operating hours and staffing.
Also unclear is how funding for the U.S. Department of Energy might change under the Trump administration and what impact that might have on the public outreach and education missions now conducted at AMSE. President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget blueprint for 2018—the so-called “skinny budget”—has proposed a 5.6 percent decrease for DOE, including a roughly $900 million reduction for the Office of Science. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which manages AMSE, is an Office of Science lab.
Federal officials in Oak Ridge seem to be taking somewhat of a “wait and see” approach with regard to the skinny budget, although they do plan for various budget scenarios. More budget details are expected later. Federal legislators and national political reporters have pointed out that what the president proposes in a budget is never the same as what passes Congress.
On Sunday, U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, an Ooltewah Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge, said he and Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, are working to increase funding for the Office of Science.
In a phone interview last week, Claire Sinclair of the ORNL Site Office said officials remain committed to partnering with the National Park Service and to having a “really nice” information center in Oak Ridge.
“We want the facility to be a good experience for the Oak Ridge community and for visitors,” Sinclair said.
DOE always expected that it would partner with the Park Service like it has at AMSE, Sinclair said. DOE will be the tenant at the former Sears Roebuck space, and the goal has been to jointly co-locate with the National Park Service, she said.
The details of the move of the museum’s missions are still being worked out, but DOE has to be out of the AMSE building by the end of December, Sinclair said.
It’s not clear if the AMSE name will change. The AMSE missions may no longer be referred to as AMSE. For now, they are being referred to as the DOE Public Education and Outreach Center.
Nicholas said the National Park Service, which doesn’t know AMSE’s closing date, is fully committed to Oak Ridge. The Park Service wants to be in the best space possible and wants to work with the community, Nicholas said.
“It’s a brand-new park,” she said. “Parks take time.”
She pointed out that the Obed Wild and Scenic River initially started with a card table and folding chairs in a corner of the Oak Ridge post office.
DOE and the National Park Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Interior, have a partnership on the Manhattan Project National Historical Park for a few reasons. One of the primary reasons is that some of the facilities included in the park are on DOE property, including at the former K-25 site (now known as Heritage Center), ORNL, and Y-12 National Security Complex.
DOE will maintain ownership of the facilities, but the National Park Service will tell the story of the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project was a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons during World War II. Besides Oak Ridge, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which was formally established in November 2015, includes Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Under a property transfer agreement signed December 30, new businesses could be built on the 17 acres that now house AMSE, the museum is to be relocated, and the AMSE building could be demolished. The December 30 agreement calls for transferring the 17-acre AMSE site from the U.S. Department of Energy to the City of Oak Ridge. The city will then transfer the property in two phases to a company set up by RealtyLink, the developer of Main Street Oak Ridge at the former Oak Ridge Mall. That new company, called TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC, will then be able to use the AMSE site for economic development, although no specific development plans have been announced yet.
Under the December 30 agreement, the AMSE missions, now in a 54,000-square-foot building, are to be relocated within about one year to 18,000 square feet of space in the two-story building that once housed the Sears Roebuck store next to JCPenney at Main Street Oak Ridge. That space, once it’s finished, will be provided by TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC to the city at no cost for 15 years. That means no rent, utilities, or maintenance.
The city will, in turn, sublease that former Sears Roebuck space to DOE at no charge for 15 years, and it can be used for the federal government’s public outreach and education missions now conducted at AMSE—as well as for a temporary visitor center for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. It’s not clear what the long-term plans for the National Park Service visitor center might be.
Oak Ridge was the main production site for the Manhattan Project, and uranium enriched at the Y-12 National Security Complex fueled the first atomic bomb used in wartime. That bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, shortly before the war ended.
You can learn more about the AMSE property transfer agreement and planned relocation here.
You can learn more about the Manhattan Project National Historical Park here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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